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Chinese Blind Spot

4:00 PM, Mar 22, 2012 • By ETHAN GUTMANN
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Okay, so there’s not much of a smoking gun here, yet one hopes that Rep. Chris Smith will hammer on the Bain Capital Asia Fund relentlessly. Any attention to the issue is good, right? Yes, except that the New York Times has arrived at the party just as everyone is putting their coats on. I personally reported on the issue of surveillance cameras in China (back when it was Sony and Nortel) and arrests based on facial recognition ten years ago. Other news outlets investigated it. The New York Times, with ample assets on the ground in Beijing, ignored the issue for a couple of years. The majority of their reporting took place in 2006, when Yahoo’s betrayal of Chinese journalist Shi Tao drove Congress to hold hearings including Cisco (Mark Chandler representing), Google, and Microsoft (which hosts an impressive amount of Obama bundlers these days). While all this commotion was taking place in Washington, Beijing moved ever closer to relying on Chinese-brand surveillance technology. Which is why we are only needed to fund these things nowadays; Uniview is a Chinese company. So drop the technology transfer angle. The Chinese are now the world’s best hackers after all. 

The underlying problem is that the failure to enforce Tiananmen-era legal sanctions on the export of police and surveillance technology isn’t just one of those darn Bush-era messes anymore. Secretary of State Clinton announced a bold new Global Internet Freedom Initiative to find ways around authoritarian firewalls. But the tooth to tail ratio was skewed in favor of the usual feel good media-training organizations rather than the Falun Gong dissidents who already had a proven record in breaking through the Great Firewall. And there was little in the Initiative about the fact that much of the equipment and funding came from American companies. 

Somehow, for the New York Times, the West’s underlying loss of confidence in its own values will never be the story. It’s always those others, the enemy within our own ranks. Yet the speedy construction of China’s Big Brother Internet could not have occurred without a bipartisan failure of American policy—and a shameful one at that. 

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